14th May 2013 (F1plus/ R.Creed) Some impressive performances from Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo could be moving the Australian closer to a Red Bull drive. This comes as it was revealed Red Bull were keeping an eye on the young driver should Kimi Raikkonen - the teams first choice - be unavailable. But which of the two drivers is really in contention for a future Red Bull drive?
With speculation continuing to grow Mark Webber will not be retained beyond 2013 after Malaysia’s Multi 21 row, Raikkonen and Ricciardo have been lined up as a potential replacements.
The Australian has scored seven points this season and sits in 12th in the drivers championship. There have been impressive performances from Ricciardo. The first came China where he produced his best ever qualifying of seventh and later converted this into a solid points finish. He pushed in the final laps of the race to get ahead of midfield rivals Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg.
His performance in China was also replicated in Spain. The points haul may not have been as many as in Shanghai but the Australian drove a clean race in an upgraded and faster Toro Rosso to finish 10th.
Ricciardo has out-qualified his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne four times and out-raced him three times in the five races so far this season. However not every race has been as successful or impressive as China and Spain. In Australia he retired after 39 laps suffering from exhaust failure whilst in Malaysia it was another exhaust issue which put an end to his race with five laps to go leaving him classified 18th. In Bahrain he also had a disappointing race finishing 16th a lap down on winner Sebastian Vettel.
As previously mentioned, should Webber leave the world championship winning team, the man in pole position to replace him is in fact 2007 world champion Raikkonen. The Finn is favourite according to paddock whispers and he is also without a contract for 2014.
Whilst Lotus remain confident Raikkonen will stay with them for 2014 the benefits of making the move to Red Bull may outweigh the cons. Lotus may have the potential to win a championship- but it is not certain. The lure of a team which has won three consecutive driver and constructor titles since 2009 - and could be set to win a fourth this season - may sway the Finn towards the Austrian team.
Raikkonen has performed faultlessly this year. He is second in the drivers championship just five points behind Vettel. He won the first race of the season in Australia and has finished in second position three times. His worst performance this season has been seventh in Malaysia.
With Raikkonen, Red Bull would also have an experienced driver who has proved he can win a championship. In comparison Ricciardo is relatively unknown only in his second season of F1. He may be out-qualifying and out-racing his teammate but this doesn’t necessarily mean he will be able to perform in a top-team.
The truth of the matter is that there is really only one driver in contention for the Red Bull drive. The team are understood to want Raikkonen, and in light of his recent form it is understandable. However it is not inconceivable that should he not make the move Webber will be signed for another season.
Red Bull say they won’t make a decision until the summer. There may be more than one name floating around for the second seat but one thing is for certain - the team’s 2014 driver line-up is far from settled.